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November 16, 2012

Transaction Analysis

Melky Flees To Canada

by Sam Miller

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TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Reportedly sign Melky Cabrera to a two-year deal worth $16 million. [11/16]

If you were playing Taboo and you drew the card for Melky Cabrera, what might the disallowed related words be? Scanning the web, probably these:

Cheap
Discount
Affordable
Steroids
Bargain

Nearly every site that writes about baseball suggested Cabrera could be a swell deal for a team that didn’t mind the PR hit of signing a known user/amateur web developer. What would constitute a swell deal? Without a pool of similar scenarios in the recent past, it’s hard to pin down:

  • Joel Sherman: "But in the group of executives with whom I spoke, one thought Cabrera could get two years at $10 million to $12 million, another said one year at $8 million to $10 million. But the large majority saw Cabrera having to take a one-year deal in the $2 million-to-$5 million range."
  • Jerry Crasnick: "Most executives expect Cabrera to sign a one-year, make-good deal for a base salary of $2 million on the low side to $7 million to $10 million on the high side."
  • Jim Bowden: One year, $7.5 million

As with most prognostications, the outliers turned out to be silly and the crowd got pretty close, though in the end the average undersold Cabera's appeal. He is reportedly in line to get two years and $16 million, which means the market treated him pretty close to a league-average player without much upside. That’s a discount for a player who was sitting on 5.1 WARP through just two-thirds of the 2012 season. But that discount could be tied to any number of factors, illicit and not: His MVP-level performance for four months was out of line with his history; his MVP-level performance was driven by an uncharacteristic BABIP; his MVP-level performance relied on a 21-run swing in defensive value from 2011 to 2012; and, of course, the positive test for testosterone.

Two years and $16 million might be about what Cabrera could have expected had he only modestly improved on his 2011 season, and the underlying performance suggests he mostly did, with ticks of improvement across the board:

Measure 2011 2012
UIBB rate 4.9% 6.4%
K rate 13.3% 12.6%
ISO 0.164 0.170
HR/FB rate 9.8% 10.7%

Those improvements are a shade less impressive for Melky’s switch to the weaker league, which outweighs the switch to the tougher ballpark. Sneaking an early peak at PECOTA, I see that our system isn't buying Melky’s turnaround yet. PECOTA forecasts his TAv to fall between Cody Ross and Shane Victorino among this year’s free-agent outfielders. Had Cabrera’s consumption not been discovered, you can bet he would have asked for a lot more money, but he probably would have been worth only a few million more; three years and $30 million, perhaps. The Blue Jays got a good deal, but, even after a positive test, there are very few outright steals available. Between this move and Bartolo Colon's raise this offseason, baseball's executives are signaling that they don't see PED use the way the average fan does, as a miracle elixir. 

Leaving the baggage-related discussion behind, Cabrera will fit nicely into Toronto’s newly competitive lineup. The Blue Jays, for all the talk of pitching injuries derailing their season, were actually the third-worst offense in the American League last year. (Jeff Mathis batted sixth in the lineup four times, the first four times of his career. He batted fifth once.) Excepting Jose Bautista, who missed half the season, the Blue Jays’ outfielders combined for -0.7 WARP. Cabrera strengthens one of those positions, and gives the Blue Jays an emergency option in center.

The Blue Jays aren’t quite a fully constructed team yet, but by getting the big moves done early Alex Anthopoulos has left plenty of time to fill in the edges. He also finds himself with a surplus of flawed options in center field, with Colby Rasmus, Emilio Bonifacio, and Anthony Gose (in that order) all potentially in line to get starts between Cabrera and Jose Bautista. The gap between Rasmus and the others might be small enough that the Blue Jays consider spinning him off in another trade. 

Sam Miller is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Sam's other articles. You can contact Sam by clicking here

Related Content:  Toronto Blue Jays,  Melky Cabrera

14 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

juiced

It's a brilliant deal. 16 million over 2 years aint gonna break anybody's budget if Melky craters. If he is a 2 warp player next two seasons its a bargain. If he is a 3 warp player and up its a steal. He doesnt have to repeat a 5 warp season for this to pay off big time for Toronto.

Nov 16, 2012 12:58 PM
rating: 3
 
John Hilton

Totally agree. Cabrera lets the Jays keep Gose in AAA, where he belongs for now. Even a league-average LF performance would suit the Jays nicely.

Nov 16, 2012 13:27 PM
rating: 3
 
Matt Commins

Totally agree; let Gose develop in AAA; I wouldn't trade Rasmus; I say keep both Bonifacio and Rasmus in case players are out for an extended period of time

Nov 16, 2012 19:59 PM
rating: 1
 
Richard Bergstrom

I'd think the Jays might've overpaid a bit just because it's harder to lure agents north of the border... also, a tad bit harder to get those PEDs through customs.

Nov 16, 2012 13:36 PM
rating: -2
 
Behemoth

Why do you think they overpaid? 1.5-2WAR or whatever is needed to break even at $8 million a year seems eminently likely.

Nov 16, 2012 15:03 PM
rating: 1
 
John Hilton

Maybe the Jays did overpay a bit, but when the team has the reputation that the Jays have had over the past 20 years, it is going to cost you more to attract talent.

I do want to bring up one point about cost. Can anyone think of any Yankees player who has signed a below market deal? For all the talk about everyone wanting to play for the Yankees, I just wonder if it is true.

Nov 17, 2012 07:15 AM
rating: 1
 
ScottyB

Pettite, Chavez and Jones this past year.

Nov 17, 2012 09:49 AM
rating: 2
 
Richard Bergstrom

When I mean overpaid, I mean the idea that Melky got more than what Sam's industry quotes suggested and articles elsewhere have suggested. I still think the Jays got good value, especially compared to Hunter.

And on the PED thing, there was that one doctor (or was it his secretary) who got busted trying to get PEDs across the border.

Nov 17, 2012 13:21 PM
rating: 0
 
John Carter

Negatives? Com'mon, people, have a sense of humour!

Nov 18, 2012 18:03 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

Over-under that Melky outperforms Hunter?

Nov 16, 2012 14:34 PM
rating: 0
 
Michael Bodell
(89)

I'd say it is about 50/50 who hits better next year, and maybe Melky is a 2/1 favorite to hit better the following year. As for defense, I think it is also pretty close too.

Nov 16, 2012 17:44 PM
rating: 1
 
John Hilton

I would bet on Melky because he is 28 and you are getting him for his peak years (whatever that may be given PED - I'm not buying statements that they don't help that much). Hunter is in his mid 30s, and he is much more likely to decline for that reason alone.

If Melky does well, you can trade him at the end of the year and let one of the youngsters take over, or keep him or two years, offer him arbitration and get compensatory draft picks. If he does poorly, well, you lose money only. You can always replace money with higher ticket prices etc. You can't replace draft picks or traded talent so it is worth the risk.

Nov 17, 2012 07:10 AM
rating: 1
 
John Carter

Yeah, as a Tigers fan living in Toronto, I was shocked the Jays got the seemingly better player for a whopping $10,000,000.00 less over just two years. Mainly, though, I was shocked at how much Detroit put down for Torii.

The only justification for this is that Detroit expects Hunter to be one hell of a positive influence in the club house. They must figure he is on the Ichiro/Jeter/Ibanez/Julio Franco age defying fitness program. They must figure he's going to teach that program to Austin Jackson - and, perhaps, inspire Prince Fielder to get in better shape. And, they figure he's the missing ingredient that will keep the team winning right through the post season's last pitch!

Nov 18, 2012 18:12 PM
rating: 0
 
bheikoop

Do you think Rasmus has more trade value than Bonifacio and his position flexibility? After the Cabrera signing, I've got to think EEEEEMILLLIIIIOOOOOO is the one on his way out.

Nov 18, 2012 09:27 AM
rating: 0
 
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